Best 12 AWD Cars: Comparisons, Photos, and More

November 1st, 2023 by

There are many reasons to consider purchasing a car with all-wheel drive (AWD) — whether you’re moving to a part of the country with notoriously wet or snowy weather, looking for improved handling on your daily commute, or have heard nothing but good reviews from friends and family who drive one. No matter the reason, if you’re thinking about bringing home an AWD vehicle but aren’t sure which make or model might be the one for you, you’ve come to the right place.

Here, we’ve rounded up our top 12 picks for the best AWD cars. Keep reading to find out which ones made the list and how they compare in terms of price, safety rating, top features, and much more.

Table of Contents

What Is an AWD Vehicle?

AWD is a system in which a car’s engine sends power (also known as torque) to each of the vehicle’s four wheels in order to help drivers keep control when traveling on slippery roads. Depending on how a vehicle equipped with AWD responds to road conditions, this power can be distributed evenly or sent to the wheels that are in most need of assistance.

Unlike four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles (it’s true, 4WD and AWD are completely different drivetrains), AWD systems require no input from the driver for activation and it’s up to the car to determine when to engage the system.

The 12 Best Cars With AWD

When choosing an AWD car, there are many options available, which can sometimes feel overwhelming. To help narrow the field — and make your decision easier — the following 12 AWD vehicles are our top picks based on available features, reliability, and value:

1. Chevrolet Equinox

Chevrolet Equinox

The Equinox is a crossover SUV that consistently earns high marks for reliability, safety, and affordability. Some of its most noteworthy features include ample headroom and legroom in both rows, a user-friendly infotainment system, Teen Driver technology, wireless phone charging, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and navigation. Newer models also come equipped with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.

As with any vehicle, there are pros and cons of ownership. Pros include: a smooth ride, precise handling, and spacious interior. Cons are noted as being: sluggish engine performance, a small cargo area, and mediocre quality of interior materials.

2. Ford Explorer

Ford Explorer

With seating for up to seven passengers, the Explorer is a popular choice for families. Not only does the ample seating make it perfect for fitting larger groups, this SUV is also packed with safety features and has been named a top safety pick by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for the past four years running. 

In addition to blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning, the Explorer’s interior features are also worth a second look. Memory seats, rear A/C, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and Android and Apple CarPlay compatibility are only a few of the vehicle’s top features.

Additional pros of owning an Explorer include: powerful engine options, a smooth and quiet ride, and ample cargo space. Some drawbacks are: below-average fuel economy, low safety ratings in model years prior to 2020, many desirable trims come with a high price tag.

3. Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V

There’s a reason why the CR-V has a reputation for being one of the most well-rounded crossover SUVs on the market. To start, it’s reliable. Over the past 10 years, the CR-V has earned a Quality & Reliability rating of “Great” from J.D. Power six times (with the remaining four model years earning a higher-end average rating).

A long list of enticing features also make the CR-V an excellent choice. On the safety front, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, driver attention alert, and emergency braking assist all come standard on newer models. Other standard features include heated mirrors, electric power steering, a rear view camera, adaptive cruise control, and remote keyless power locks — among many others.

The CR-V’s list of pros include: quick acceleration, above average fuel economy, ample storage and cargo space, and roomy interior. Cons are noted as: temperamental touch screen on the infotainment system, a less-than-impressive base engine, and an unreliable navigation system in some model years.

4. Hyundai Tucson 

Hyundai Tucson

Another well-rounded option is the Tucson. The more modest of Hyundai’s two crossover entries, this option offers buyers a comfortable ride, exceptional handling, and a wealth of easy-to-use tech features.

Speaking of features, some of the Tucson’s most notable include a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Infinity Audio, front- and second-row USB outlets, wireless device charging, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. This vehicle is also equipped with safety features like driver attention warning, pedestrian detection, a tire pressure monitoring system, and forward collision-avoidance assist. 

Pros for the Tucson include: good value for money, nicer interior materials than the competition, and a comfortable ride. On the other hand, some cons to note are: sluggish base engine performance, less cargo capacity than some other crossover models, lower than average fuel economy.

5. Jeep Compass

Jeep Compass

One of the main draws for the Compass, and any Jeep, is its excellent off-roading capabilities. But that’s not the only reason this Jeep is a popular choice for those who like to head off the beaten path. We’ve included this model on our list for its safety (all models from 2017–2022 have earned a 4/5 overall safety rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration), reliability, and value.

Many of the Compass’ models come with a backup camera, power seats, sunroof, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. As for the safety features that helped earn this SUV its excellent reputation, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, side-impact airbags, and lane departure warning are all available in most trim levels.

Pros of note include: excellent off-road ability, good value on entry-level trims, user-friendly technology, and ample passenger and cargo space. While its average fuel economy, mediocre powertrain, and slower performance are all cons to consider.

6. Kia Sportage

Kia Sportage

Often overlooked in a class that includes heavy weights such as the CR-V and RAV4, the Kia Sportage deserves a second glance thanks to its value for money. Considering its comparatively low starting MSRP, this crossover offers a surprisingly robust list of standard features, such as reclining rear seats, driver attention alert, pre- and post-collision safety systems, front and rear head airbags, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, and much more.

Sportage owners commonly cite the car’s spacious interior, intuitive technology features, quiet ride (even at highway speeds), and good driving manners as the vehicle’s top pros. Cons tend to include: lack of cargo space, below average fuel efficiency, and subpar acceleration.

7. Mazda CX-5

Mazda CX-5

For those who love the look of a high-end SUV without the luxury price tag, the Mazda CX-5 may be the perfect AWD vehicle. Not only does this crossover stand out with its sleek profile, it’s also beloved for its sporty driving habits and quick acceleration. When compared to its more utilitarian competition, this crossover may be the option that’s most fun to drive.

The CX-5’s top safety features include smart brake support, lane keep assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. USB ports, speed-sensitive volume control, keyless ignition, dusk-sensing headlamps, and reclining rear seats are only some of the interior and tech features that come standard on newer models.

Sharp handling and responsive steering, an upscale interior, and quiet ride are top pros of owning a CX-5. Common cons include: an underpowered base engine, minimal rear legroom, and a cargo area that’s smaller than what competitors offer.

8. Mitsubishi Outlander Sport   

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Though not the most popular choice of AWD vehicle on this list, Mitsubishi has done a lot to improve the Outlander Sport over the years — including adding more standard safety features and enhancing its list of tech specs. This crossover earns a spot on our list for its value for money and excellent warranty (good enough that a car may still be covered even when purchased as a pre-owned vehicle).

When it comes to features, some of this model’s most notable include: lane departure warning accident avoidance system, emergency braking assist, tire pressure monitoring, a rear view camera, USB ports, heated mirrors, and remote anti-theft alarm system.

The list of pros for this vehicle features: unbeatable warranty coverage, that it’s well-equipped with features for the price tag, and its stable ride during highway driving. As for cons, the outdated interior, sluggish transmission, and lackluster performance stand out.

9. Nissan Altima

Nissan Altima

While the Altima is more of a mid-class entry, it stands out for its above-average fuel economy, safety, and reliability. Additionally, this model is the first Nissan sedan to offer AWD, making it a good car for families or commuters who live in areas that are prone to snowy winters.

Depending on the model year and trim level you choose, you can expect to find the following interior and safety features in your Altima: USB ports, power seats, keyless entry, NissanConnect infotainment system, blind spot warning, brake assist, side-impact airbags, and rear child safety locks.

Excellent miles per gallon (MPG), smooth ride, powerful base engine, and comfortable interior are common entries on the list of pros associated with the Altima. Cons include: it’s not as sporty as other models in its class, has average interior styling, and limited standard features.

10. Nissan Rogue

Nissan Rogue

There’s a lot to recommend with the Rogue, not least of which is its status as one of Nissan’s best-selling models. Its top-class safety, reliability, and value ratings are also good reasons to consider this popular AWD vehicle.

Another way the Rogue stands out? Newer models are equipped with many remarkable interior, performance, and safety features that include automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, tri-zone climate control, bluetooth connectivity, and keyless entry.

For pros, this crossover is favored for its upscale interior, large cargo area, refined powertrain, and fuel efficiency. Engine drone at high speeds, average dynamics, and lackluster acceleration top the list of cons.

11. Subaru Impreza

Subaru Impreza

Not many compact cars offer standard all-wheel drive, which is only one of the reasons why the Subaru Impreza is so unique. Another of its stand-out features? Manual transmission is also an option — one that auto manufacturers are increasingly leaving by the wayside. Apart from these draws, buyers frequently choose the Impreza for its comfortable, roomy interior and long list of driver safety aids.

These safety features include: rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, post-collision safety system, tire pressure monitoring, front and rear emergency braking assist, stability and traction control, and daytime running lights. As for other features, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, USB ports, a rear view camera, and an interior air filtration system all come standard on newer models. 

Some pros of owning this vehicle are: its quiet and comfortable cabin, good value, and excellent safety ratings. For cons, slow acceleration, low-quality interior materials, and inaccurate fuel economy estimates are commonly noted.

12. Toyota RAV4

Toyota RAV4

As one of the best-selling cars in the country, the Toyota RAV4 is a popular option for buyers who are looking for an AWD vehicle. Some of the reasons why this crossover SUV is a top choice include its roomy interior, ample cargo space, and robust suite of safety features. We also give it high marks for reliability, fuel economy, and value.

In addition to its first-rate safety provisions (which include lane keep assist, lane departure warning, pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking in newer models), the RAV 4 comes with an impressive list of interior and performance features. USB ports with external media control, satellite radio capabilities, six speakers, adaptive cruise control, single zone front air conditioning, and a rear view camera are all standard.

This car’s good looks, impressive number of safety features, car-like driving manners, and good towing capacity are only some of the most common pros. Cons, on the other hand, include unrefined engine sounds, pricy top trims, and a no-thrills driving performance.

Best AWD Cars Compared

Take a look at the following chart to see how all 12 of the models on our list of best AWD cars stack up, head-to-head.

Trim Levels 

J.D. Power Quality & Reliability Rating

Top Features

Pros & Cons

Fuel Efficiency

Chevrolet Equinox L, LS, LT, Premier 87/100 User-friendly infotainment system, Teen Driver technology, wireless phone charging Pros: smooth ride, precise handling, spacious interior

Cons: sluggish engine, small cargo area, mediocre interior materials

25 MPG combined
Ford Explorer Base, XLT, Limited, Limited hybrid, ST, Platinum 74/100 Blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, memory seats Pros: powerful engine options, smooth and quiet ride, ample cargo space

Cons: below average MPG, low safety ratings for some model years, high price tag for some trims 

23 MPG combined
Honda CR-V LX, EX, LX hybrid, EX-L, EX hybrid, EX-L hybrid, Touring, Touring hybrid 79/100 Lane departure warning, driver attention alert, rear view camera Pros: Quick acceleration, above average MPG, roomy interior

Cons: Temperamental infotainment touch screen, unimpressive base engine, unreliable navigation in some model years

30 MPG combined
Hyundai Tucson SE, Value, SEL, Sport, Limited, Ultimate 88/100 Seven-inch touchscreen, Infinity Audio, pedestrian detection Pros: Good value, nice interior materials, comfortable ride

Cons: Sluggish base engine, smaller cargo capacity, lower than average MPG

25 MPG combined
Jeep Compass Sport, Latitude, Altitude, Limited, Trailhawk, High Altitude 82/100 Rear cross-path detection, power seats, backup camera Pros: Excellent off-road capability, good value on entry-level trims, user-friendly tech

Cons: Average MPG, mediocre powertrain, slow performance

25 MPG combined
Kia Sportage LX, S, EX, SX Turbo 87/100 Reclining rear seats, pre- and post-collision safety systems, driver attention alert Pros: Spacious interior, intuitive tech, quiet ride

Cons: Lack of cargo space, below average MPG, subpar acceleration

26 MPG combined
Mazda CX-5 Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, Signature 76/100 Smart brake support, speed-sensitive volume control, keyless ignition Pros: Sharp handling, responsive steering, upscale interior

Cons: Underpowered base engine, minimal rear legroom, smaller cargo area

26 MPG combined
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport ES, SE, SP, Black Edition, GT 85/100 Lane departure warning, tire pressure monitoring system, USB ports Pros: Unbeatable warranty, robust list of features for the price, stable ride during highway driving

Cons: Outdated interior, sluggish transmission, lackluster performance

25 MPG combined
Nissan Altima S, SR, SV, SL, Platinum 79/100 Power seats, blind spot warning, brake assist Pros: Excellent MPG, smooth ride, comfortable interior

Cons: Not as sporty as other sedans, average interior styling, limited standard features

30 MPG combined
Nissan Rogue S, SV, SL 81/100 Automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, tri-zone climate control Pros: Upscale interior, large cargo area, refined powertrain

Cons: High-speed engine drone, average dynamics, lackluster acceleration

27 MPG combined
Subaru Impreza 2.0i, 2.0i Premium, 2.0i Sport, 2.0i Limited 74/100 Rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear emergency braking assist, USB ports Pros: Quiet and comfortable cabin, good value, excellent safety ratings

Cons: Slow acceleration, low-quality interior materials, inaccurate fuel economy estimates

31 MPG combined
Toyota RAV4 LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure, Limited, TRD Off-Road 74/100 Automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control Pros: Visual appeal, impressive number of safety features, towing capacity

Cons: Unrefined engine sounds, pricy top trims, no-thrills driving performance

27–30 MPG combined 

Note: Information in this chart is based on the 2020 model year for all featured vehicles.

The Benefits of AWD Cars for New Englanders

If you live in New England, or any area that regularly experiences winter weather, an AWD vehicle could  be your best option. As this drivetrain is ideal for improving control and acceleration in snowy, icy, and slushy road conditions, having a car that’s equipped with an AWD system can help provide you with peace of mind when the weather turns.

AWD Vehicle FAQs

What is AWD?

All-wheel drive, or AWD, is a drivetrain that helps drivers maintain control of a vehicle on snowy, slushy, icy, or wet driving surfaces. When slippery conditions are detected, the system sends extra power to all four of the car’s wheels to help provide traction. 

Is 4WD the same as AWD?

While the two terms may sound the same, AWD and 4WD (four-wheel drive) are two unique drivetrains. 4WD is best for getting out of tricky spots, such as deep drifting snow or mud slicks. This makes 4WD vehicles ideal for off-roaders or drivers who live in rural areas with unpaved roads.

Do AWD cars do well in snow and ice?

Yes. AWD cars perform well on slippery, paved roads and treated driving surfaces, making them a good choice for wintertime city and highway driving.

What is the best AWD vehicle to purchase?

It depends — the criteria that make an AWD vehicle the right choice for you may rule that vehicle out for other drivers. When narrowing down your options, make a list of must-have features and other requirements to find the car that best fits what you’re looking for.  

Do sedans have AWD?

Occasionally, however, AWD is more commonly found in larger vehicles such as crossovers, SUVs, and trucks. Some examples of cars that offer an AWD option include the Nissan Altima and Subaru Impreza.

How does AWD impact gas mileage?

Generally, vehicles equipped with AWD get fewer miles per gallon (MPG) than their rear- or front-wheel drive counterparts. This is because AWD systems add extra weight, requiring engines to work harder and causing gas mileage to decrease.

Find Your Next AWD Vehicle at Me

If you’re looking to bring home one of the AWD vehicles on this list — or any other kind of car or truck — Merchants Auto is a great place to start! We are the largest pre-owned dealership in New Hampshire and have been in operation for more than 60 years.

The inventory on our 26-acre lot is always changing. We have hundreds of vehicles to choose from with more than 30 different makes — including dozens of styles such as hatchbacks, sedans, SUVs, pickups, sports cars, fuel-efficient models, compact cars, and work vans.

We strive to save our customers time and money, and our ultimate goal is to provide an enjoyable and hassle-free car buying experience.

Ready to get started? Browse our inventory online or stop by our Hooksett, New Hampshire, showroom today.

Posted in Models